I’ve always found it difficult to write about things like loss. If there’s no sarcasm to be found I default to news-mode about 90% of the time, and that’s probably being fairly generous with the percentages. So I asked for Jaders to send in their own thoughts and memories about Carrie Fisher – and Debbie Reynolds, who holds her own special place in Club Jade history.
“Why do you love Star Wars?” is a question commonly asked of fans. Some people cite the story, the characters, the great space battles… but for me, it’s the impact of seeing A New Hope when it premiered in 1977. I was 10 years old. My mind immediately goes to Princess Leia’s detention block rescue, when she grabs the blaster rifle to fight her own way out of a losing situation. I may have made my mark on the Star Wars universe writing about aliens, I may spend a lot of time volunteering with the Empire City Garrison of the 501st Legion, but I love Star Wars because of Princess Leia. To my 10 year old self, Princess Leia was a revelation. She meant an awful lot to a girl who wasn’t allowed to play Little League baseball for no other reason than she wasn’t a boy. (Remember that this was the ’70s, and something as simple and now taken for granted as co-ed Little League didn’t yet widely exist.) Here was a woman capable of taking charge and taking care of herself, saving the guys as she did it.
During my childhood, strong female role models were in short supply, so Princess Leia became one for me. It didn’t matter that she was a fictional character. In my imagination and in my heart, Princess Leia was as real as Marie Curie and Amelia Earhart. Yet, as I grew up, I was able to appreciate the ways that the model of a strong woman Princess Leia presented was eclipsed by the real-life Carrie Fisher. Brutally intelligent, always unapologetically herself, and a champion for mental health issues, Carrie Fisher was as much a role model for little girls and fans everywhere as the character she portrayed. Instead of playing nice and sticking to the expectations of others, she was baudy, challenging, and a wry observer of the world around her. Her transparency about her personal struggles with substance abuse and bipolar disorder challenged soceity to wider openness about those issues when it might have been easier to fight those demons in private. In Wishful Drinking she taught us that living and functioning in the face of mental illness is something “to be proud of, not ashamed of.” With Carrie Fisher’s passing, a light has been dimmed, both as our beloved Princess Leia and for the wonderful, inspiring soul that she was.
A quote from Wishful Drinking has been repeated often since Ms. Fisher passed away, but I will close with it as well. It’s one of the most powerful lessons on how to live that I’ve ever heard. “If my life wasn’t funny, it would just be true, and that’s unacceptable.” — Helen Keier
I met Carrie Fisher once. I’m not usually about getting autographs at conventions, but it was Carrie Fisher and she was blessing people with glitter. I couldn’t resist. After waiting five hours, I approached the table where she was signing. I watched her serenade a lady as she applied gold eyeliner and glitter to her face. I watched her sprinkle glitter into a little girl’s hair and tell her it would keep her safe. She charmed and delighted all.
Once it was my turn, she signed my Princess Leia comic — she put, “For Amy, you rocked while the rest rolled” — and she leaned over to apply glitter to my face. She drew an exclamation point on my forehead with gold eyeliner. I noticed her bright purple mascara and commented on how much I liked it. She said, “We have to do these things.” I said, “I agree! It’s fun.” And she replied, “It’s more than fun. It’s joyous.” As she said that, she rubbed silver glitter all over my smiling cheeks. I tried to refrain from weeping.
She made an autograph signing an unforgettable experience, and I think that applies to Carrie in general. Whatever she did, she embraced fully and did it with flair — she made everything unforgettable. — Amy Ratcliffe
In March of 1997, my husband and I flew to Vegas to meet in person a bunch of weirdo Star Wars freaks I met online on a listserve (remember those?) called Club Jade. As one of those ladies put it, that event felt more like a reunion than meeting for the first time. Nearly 20 years later, I count the people I met there and others who came later to Club Jade among my dearest friends.
Where in Vegas did this fateful gathering take place? A little off-Strip place we called Princess Leia’s mom’s hotel. It was better known as the Debbie Reynolds Hotel.
Thank you, Ms. Reynolds, for some of the best friends I have ever known. Give your daughter a hug for us. You are both sorely missed down here. — Kelly
Back in 1977, I had never seen an SF character quite like Leia. She was smart-mouthed, talented, and too busy to just become someone’s girlfriend. And with The Force Awakens, I saw something once again that I haven’t seen in other movies — a character who had aged in a way that was realistic, who looked like someone who’d worked hard over too many years, and someone who had kept on going even when others around her had gone off in search of escape or penance.
As a result, somehow over all these years Leia has become my favorite character of them all. In 1977 I was going-on-17 and the Princess was a role model. In 2016 I’m 56, and General Organa is a fine icon to carry me forward.
So now I have a shelf in my office with a small collection of Leia items. I’ve got all sorts of versions of the Princess With A Blaster — action figures, minifigs, magnets, folk art. No slaves or ceremonial figureheads, just the Leia that Will. Not. Give. Up. Or. Shut. Up.
Thanks for giving us that gift, Ms. Fisher. Thanks for putting up with all of our fannish oddness all these years. Thanks for being, yourself, another woman who would not ever give up or shut up, even in the face of a culture that isn’t all that interested in what women think or say or do as they age. — Nancy
I have read wonderful tributes to Carrie from younger women friends who were little girls when A New Hope debuted. So many have noted that Leia became a role model for them. I was in the Navy in 1977, so I wasn’t inspired by the strong female character in quite the same way, but Leia left a lasting impression on me. I loved her bluntness, her take-charge attitude. Carrie’s role in Star Wars as the tough, kick-ass, intelligent, princess was an inspiration for the strong females in my own stories. Women could be heroes. Leia (and Carrie in that role) gave us that.
“Somebody has to save our skins! Into the garbage chute, flyboy.” — Charlene Newcomb
Carrie, it’s been over a decade since I was able to spend two hours with you at a Celebration backstage area. They are memorable memories. I was amazed, time and time again, how being on the Stage LIT YOU UP. No matter how you were feeling backstage, on stage you shone as few will ever do. Your talent was humbling to see. I doubt I will ever see another with the mixture of gifts you had. You entertained me, you inspired me, you gave a face to a character that meant everything to a 13 year old girl. Your brilliance, had a cutting edge that enchanted, though you never sugar-coated your experiences that melded you into you. I promise to keep supporting the things you put out there. You will never be forgotten. — Arica
I feel like an old curmudgeon saying this, but I don’t feel like anyone who was not a young woman or older at the time will really truly be able to understand how revolutionary the character of Princess Leia was in 1977. While there’s still so much more that could be done these days, in 1977 the “strong” woman character wasn’t really strong. She was bossy. Whiny. Just a slightly spunkier version of the damsel in distress. But when Leia snarked her way into our lives, we saw so much more about the strength of women. The ability to be “the self-rescuing princess.” I stopped dreaming about the prince who would rescue me. Instead, I dreamed of the prince who would run beside me as we went on adventures together. I dreamed about how I could be in charge like Leia when I grew up.
As a 9-year-old, I loved Leia. But it wasn’t until I was an adult that I came to love Carrie Fisher. I learned just how much of Leia was in Carrie. (Or was that vice-versa?) Yeah, Carrie had a rough time of it: drugs, divorce, chaos. But at the core of that was the fighter. She struggled. She had times when her mental illness took her down, but she would push through that and get herself up. She used her illness and her struggles to create humor and wit. (I’m not sure anyone will ever be completely sure of every script she made better.) And, strongest of all, she put up with the craziness that was Star Wars fandom.
I’d like to think that we, in some small way, helped her. We loved our Princess. And we always will. — Paula